U.K. firm Charles Russell Speechlys is opening its first Asian office in Hong Kong with three partners.
The Hong Kong office will mainly focus on family law and private wealth planning practices. Partner Richard Grasby joins from offshore firm Maples and Calder, where he led the Asia trusts and private wealth practice from Hong Kong. Qualified both in the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, Grasby advises clients on trust structure, family offices and private funds.
Grasby had been a partner at Maples since 2014, having joined the firm in 2008 from Ogier. He practiced tax law at legacy SJ Berwin earlier in his career.
Leading the family law practice is partner Jonathan Mok, who joins from Mayer Brown JSM, where he was a family law litigation partner. His practice includes matters arising from divorce, custody and assets transfer between generations. Mok has been a solicitor advocate since 2014 and is able to argue in court on behalf of clients in civil litigation. (Lawyers in Hong Kong are divided into the solicitor and barrister branches; only barristers were allowed to argue in court until 2012 when a small number of solicitors started to be granted “Higher Rights of Audience.”)
Mok joined Hong Kong’s Johnson Stokes & Master—one of the largest firms in the city—in 1995, and became a partner in 2001. Johnson Stokes became Mayer Brown JSM in 2008 when it merged with the Chicago-based firm. Mok is in the process of launching a new Hong Kong law firm and will enter into an association with Charles Russell Speechlys. Pending approval from the Law Society of Hong Kong, the new firm is expected to open in September.
In addition to the hires, partner Ashley King-Christopher will relocate to Hong Kong from London to advise on wealth structure and investment transactions. The Hong Kong office will have three additional lawyers.
In opening in Hong Kong, Charles Russell Speechlys expects to capture work in the region’s growing private wealth market. Mok, who already had a close relationship with the firm when he was at Mayer Brown JSM, said the number of high-net-worth individuals in Hong Kong could reach 230,000 by 2020. “I have every confidence that we will soon become one of the major players in Hong Kong,” Mok said.
Still a niche area in Asia for international law firms, private client practices are becoming increasingly attractive as more wealth is being poured into emerging markets in China and Southeast Asia. So far, a number of firms have ventured into trust and wealth planning and family practices in Asia, including Herbert Smith Freehills, Squire Patton Boggs, Vedder Price and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. U.K.-based private client specialist Withers has also been active in Hong Kong.